Motorbike Madness

Sihanoukville Travel Blog

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Motorbike taxis
 

Earlier this year, in March, I stayed at the Caffe Venezia for $4 a night. The Italian-run guesthouse offered motorbike rentals for a dollar per day. The bikes were old and battered Chinese copies of 125cc Hondas and often required road-side maintenance - primarily from parts rattling loose or tired engines screeching out for motor oil. Before becoming a 'Carry-on', I toted a muti-purpose 'Leatherman' which often came in handy with any of the bikes. It took about a week, and three bikes, to 'move up' to a fairly reliable one as short term travelers moved on toward Phnom Penh or to Thailand. Unfortunately on this passage the Caffe Venezia is no longer here (at least at its old location on Ekareach Street).

 

Since those cheap rental days, the 'moto mafia' has managed to change the rules.

Traffic near the market
Today, foreigners have to possess a Cambodian drivers license to rent a bike from most places. The license costs thirty-five dollars and is good for one year. For my German friends who spend 4-5 months in Cambodia, the license is feasible. They either own their small bikes or rent them by the month for US$60-90.Being stopped by the police and not having one would result in confiscation of the motorbike followed by a hefty fine to retrieve it.

 

Western traffic rules do not apply in Sihanoukville. The size of the vehicle and its speed determine right-of-way. Traffic flows and stumbles randomly from all directions in a roadway free-for-all; mostly motorbikes and pedestrians, especially around the old market. Cars are relatively few here compared to motorbikes.

Going to market
On previous visits, I had found it surprisingly easy to merge into traffic and go with the flow. I understood that it was imperative to be alert, remember to not make any erratic moves, expect the unexpected, and to be polite with the horn. Night rides back into town after a few beers on Weather Station Hill were risky. Lighting along unreliable streets was non-existent.  Other bikes to pace behind were scarce. It is illegal to drive with the headlight on in daytime but legal to NOT have it on at night! 

 

The countless motorbikes not only transport people - sometimes five at a time, usually a family - but also cargo in all shapes and forms. Unbelievably large quantities of bundles or boxes are stacked high and wide. Some tow trailers which are either mounted to a hitch on the back of the seat, or gripped by a reluctant  passenger. Other motos discover the aerodynamics of sheets of plywood. Precariously long and lethal loads flex over the drivers shoulder resembling a mechanized jousting match with bamboo, electrical conduit, or plumbing pipe lances.

 

Any accident involving foreigners would automatically be the fault of the foreigner. Unlike on Ko Chang, accidents are very few here. Common sense just might be safer than rules. Being short term, I'll rely on the inexpensive motorbike taxis to get to the beaches or Weather Station Hill.

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Motorbike taxis
Motorbike taxis
Traffic near the market
Traffic near the market
Going to market
Going to market
Balloons
Balloons